Now What? Sessions: A Conversation about Competing Priorities Facing the 83rd Legislature

Uploaded by TexasPoliticsProject on 10.12.2012

[ Silence ]
>> Well thanks everybody those of you that have come back,
those of you that are new, we had a nice session this morning.
We're going to get ostensibly more policy oriented here
in the afternoon.
My name is Jim Henson.
For those of you I don't know,
I direct the Texas Politics project at UT Austin.
We're here in an event that's cosponsored
with our good friends at the Texas Tribune.
This afternoon, we're going to have a conversation
about competing priorities facing the 83rd legislature.
I want to thank our friends at the Tribune, our staff here
from UT Austin, all of you for coming, just a little bit
of housekeeping if you could silence your cell phones.
We've been tweeting pretty much on the piggybacking
on the TribLIVE hashtag for those of you on Twitter.
We'll have a Q&A afterwards.
If during the Q&A, you could just pause slightly before the
question-- before you ask your question and that's not
so that we can, you know, we can hear you necessarily
but it helps us to be able to capture your voice on tape.
So if you can just, we'll have somebody coming
around with the microphone and so
if you'll wait, that would be great.
I want to introduce our panelists
and we will get started.
Immediately to my left is Albert Hawkins
who was the HSS Executive Commissioner
from 2003 until 2009.
Before his appointment, as Health
and Human Services Executive Commissioner,
he served as a senior White House aid
to President George W. Bush for two years.
From 1995 to 2000, he was a Budget Director
for the Governors Office, worked at the Texas Legislative Board
for 16 years and seems
to be enjoying himself now based on our previous--
>> Indeed, thank you.
>> -- a conversation a moment ago.
Next to him is Tom Mason.
He served as General Manager
of the Lower Colorado River Authority from 2007 to 2011.
Prior to that, he was the LCRA's General Counsel.
Before that, he served as the Assistant General Counsel
for the department-- Texas Department of Water Resources
and Director of the Water Quality Division
at the Texas Water Commission.
He is now back in private practice
and I think he too is enjoying that.
Next to him, Deirdre Delisi is a partner in Delisi Communication
and Service Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission
from 2008 to 2011.
She has of course held a wide range of governmental
and campaign positions in the service
of Governor Rick Perry including serving as his Chief of Staff
from 2004 and 2007, and now I feel like I don't want to imply
that you're not enjoying yourself now.
[Laughter] All right?
And at the end, Robert Scott served as Senior Policy Adviser
to Governor Perry during the creation
of the Texas High School Initiative in 2003, was involved
in the bill's passage and implementation.
But probably most notably to people in this room,
he was the State Education Commissioner from 2007 to 2012
after playing a variety of roles at TEA
and I know he too is enjoying himself now 'cause he said
so out in the hall.
Now obviously, as you all can figure out,
we're here to talk really
about the issues coming before the legislature next time
and we've chosen to talk about the issues that seem
to be very much on the minds of folks in this building
and in the process, so we want
to do today even though I'm going to invite everybody
to comment in as ragingly or to what comment
as widely as you'd like.
We're interested in talking about issues related to HHS,
to water, to transportation, to education on the expectation
that we will be talking about those quite a bit.
So please welcome our guests, if you will.
[ Applause ]
We designed this panel, basically, Evan,
Ross and I in mind because we thought all of these areas
in which you all set is such extensive experience,
would be right for legislative action in the upcoming session.
That said, I want to start by pivoting from the election
and ask you to comment on how, if at all, you think the federal
and state election results will impact discussion
of these issues as we begin to pivot
into the legislative process,
so I'd like to start with you Mr. Hawkins.
>> Oh, thank you.
Good afternoon and privilege to be a part oft this panel.
And I will talk primarily about Health and Human Services,
although, you know, I always been interested
in establishing transportation policy or school finance policy.
I'll stay focused this afternoon on Health and Human Services.
When you maybe look first at the national elections
and I think there's still probably a lot
to be learned more about that and how it might change some
of the dynamics in Congress,
I think the early conclusion can be
that well not much has probably changed,
that we still have the Democrats controlling the White House
and the Senate, and Republicans controlling the House.
And so, you might look at it and say
with that same configuration,
why would you expect anything different.
But I do think with the--
say elections, there probably is a little change in the dynamics
that did take place because of the press of the issues,
the crisis of the fiscal cliff.
So I think it will cause some movement.
And some-- I think some effort to address issues
such as entitlements whether it's Medicare or Medicaid
and those are the kinds of things that would flow--
have flow down in path to states, particularly Health
and Human Services Commission here in this state.
Taking a look at the state level elections, again,
probably not much change in the players, the actors involved.
Again, I think that it would just be dominated by the issues
that they have to confront.
One of the things I think that we'll be interesting
to observe is how the reelection
of President Obama might change the view or analysis
or expectation in our state around the Affordable Care Act,
and more particularly, the opportunity
for Medicaid expansion, and the opportunity
for a health benefit exchange.
It could be that now that is clear that,
that the law is going to move forward with implementation
that there might be a different analysis
that maybe is more tilted toward the fiscal impacts
of that legislation, that the legislature takes a look
at really difficult challenge to be addressed I think.
>> Yeah, I want to follow up on that, we'll do that.
Mr. Mason, what do you think, water?
>> On the waterfront, I don't think
that the federal elections are particularly relevant.
Because for the most part, water is a local issue the only area
where it-- generally speaking as relevant is in terms of funding,
and until we have a budget surplus at the federal level,
I don't think you are going to see a lot of action there.
Most of it is going to be on the state level.
And I think there's two issues
with the recent elections on the state level.
One of course is funding.
We have the same issue, limited dollars
and lots of competing needs.
And at the same time, I think there's what,
49 new members in the legislature.
And this morning, I took a look on the Tribune website,
they had brief profiles that have almost all
of them indicating their interest and their priorities.
And of the more than 40 that were listed,
four mentioned something related to water and that was it.
So, my sense is there is not a great deal of concern
at least among the new membership compared
to the other issues they were highlighting.
A lot of which in many cases was smaller government cutting
taxes, tightening our fiscal belts and so forth
which traditionally, in a water arena is a real challenge
because most people think of water projects and they think
of water supplies for the future, big projects,
and water is not cheap.
We assume it will be.
Now, you know, this cost 2600 times more than what you'll pay
for tap water from the city of Austin, bottled water like this.
And yet, to provide a water infrastructure
which is a real expense is extremely costly
and we haven't built a lot of larger reservoirs
from major pipeline projects in a long, long time, and yet,
last year was the hottest summer on record
and the driest 12-month period in Texas recorded history.
That got a lot of people's attention but unfortunately,
while water specialists talked about the hydrological cycle,
the reality is for water planners and water funders
and legislators and staffers,
we talked about the hydro illogical cycle.
As long as it's raining, everything is okay.
And then it starts getting dry,
people get a little bit concerned.
When you hit a full blown drought, people really got upset
and they start calling their elected officials and say,
"You need to do something about this."
People do, they look to the state water plan,
they actually introduce legislation.
They consider fees or ways to fund new projects
and then guess what happens?
It rains again and you start that cycle over.
The bigger challenge I think now
with these 49 new members is having them educated
on the true cost of water,
what the state water plan really means
and what projects are actually affordable
and give the most bang for the buck.
Conservation being I think the prime example,
it accounts for the largest single portion
of new water supplies in the state water plan and
yet there's no money allocated for that,
it's the cheapest most economical fastest way
to get new water.
But that will be competing
with individual projects around the state.
And of course, water will be competing with all
of this other interest as well.
It's the one thing we have to have to live and yet,
it's the one thing we probably take the most for granted
because we assume someone is going to provide us clean,
affordable cheap water, no matter where we choose to live.
>> All of a sudden I feel guilty for taking a drink of this.
[Laughter] The elections and transportation,
we don't hear a lot about it during the lecture.
>> That was a huge issue--
the defining issue of the federal election.
You know, I think I'm a little-- well first of all, you know,
when think about transportation, I actually think
about infrastructure more globally
than just transportation.
Clearly, I cared deeply about transportation
but I think transportation is pretty well linked to water
and the electric grid as well because when you think
about those three things together holistically,
that is the future for the economic stability
and growth of the state.
When you think about the limiting factors of the state,
it is-- I think the number one limiting factor is water,
and to a lesser extent, our electric grid
and our transportation system.
And so, I'm actually a little bit more bullish
on the prospects
for infrastructure funding this session
than maybe some normally are, I mean, yes,
I agree that public education, health and human services,
those were the issues that garner the immediate attention.
Tax issues, budget issues, those were the issues
that were talked a lot very vocally in the elections
but I do get the sense of our growing recognition among
at the very highest levels of government
and among the membership that we have to do something.
Now of course, the big challenge when you're talking
about infrastructure is our crisis is 4, 6, 20,
50 years down the road and the challenge for us
in infrastructure have always argued as how do we explain
to people that there is a problem.
And when you're talking about transportation or infras--
or water structure, whatever infrastructure you're talking
about, the solution takes many years to get to.
It's not like we need more teachers, so, here's more money
to go hire more teachers and you can turn it
around fairly quickly.
So, how we go about articulating that there is a problem
and what the solutions could be.
And, you know, in transportation,
we've been pretty fortunate.
We had a governor who took on transportation as an issue,
took a lot of political flack for taking on those issues,
embraced nontraditional sources of funding for transportation,
innovative financing that have forth well
for the state have made Texas the number state in the nation
for transportation infrastructure.
You know, I think as long as we continue
to embrace those mechanisms that--
and look at some new ways of developing transportation
and other forms of infrastructure, I think we're
on the right path but we have to--
like I said, the biggest challenge,
one of the bigger challenge is in addition
to funding the money is making sure the public understands
there may have to be new ways of delivering these needed services
and it maybe different and it maybe a little bit scary
at first or whatever, it's just not used--
what they're used too but we're trying--
we have to solve the problem now so that
in 20 years we don't get into--
we don't completely stunt the growth of the state.
>> Want to talk about that a little bit more.
Robert, in the last session, we--
Caroline Boyle was one of the-- from the political side,
was on the people of the panel
and I thought there was a little bit of a disconnect
on that panel between the focus that she saw in the centrality,
she saw the education in the last election
and what we were seeing in polling and what--
I think we really heard in public discourse
that on one hand, in some of the electoral contest,
education was front and center but overall,
we're not seeing it moving the needle a lot.
I'm wondering how you think education, you know,
gets impacted by the election results?
>> Well at the federal level, I think a divided Congress
and administration seriously compromises the ability
to do a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind,
that's further complicated by the fact that the US Department
of Ed is giving waivers to other states.
So, the, you know, necessity
of doing it now I think has been severely limited so, you know,
from people I talked to, they say that Congress may not get
around to it until 2014 and 2015.
So, I think that's going to be one of the interesting things
for a state like Texas, you know, we'll probably try
to seek a waiver but doing a little bit different way
from what I understand..
At the state level, you know,
I talked to editorial boards myself and, you know,
as candidates were coming in, they were all talking
about education, so I think it's pretty high
on the new members minds and, you know,
it's always an issue for the state.
It's always Article 2
and Article 3 are always the big drivers of spending
and I think they'll continue to do that.
The challenge facing Texas in going
in the next session is looking at things like enrollment growth
and being able to figure out how to fund the enrollment growth
that we have and seeing if we have some additional supports
for kids implementing the end of course exams
because as what we're starting to see is normally what we saw
in a subsequent test administration,
you'd pick up about 50 percent of the kids,
50 percent would pass on the second or third try.
We're not seeing that this time.
We're seeing failure rates in the 75 to 80 percent
on the second, so I think that there's going to have
to be a shift in some resources
to provide interventions for those kids.
>> A couple of you have mentioned, you know,
the idea that there are line I was talking to Tom
about this I think before we started.
There seems to be a little bit of a disconnect when we talk
about the-- both the physical
and the human capital infrastructure issues
between what people inside the process are increasingly looking
at as something on the edge of crisis and what we're hearing
from the electorate and you kind of--
you touched on this I think, you know, really well, Deirdre.
How do you-- how do you think we're going to manage
that in those areas what--
you know, how do you talk to the public about these issues
and ways that sustain their attention,
do you have a sense of that?
>> It's a real challenge I think particularly when you--
when you look at some of the more complex policy areas
that the state has to develop solutions
around whether school finance
or whether it's transportation policy or water policy,
you know, it's all very complex.
When you think about Medicaid, and the issues
that are identified with it and just a very nature
of Medicaid is really five different programs
but we all talk about it as being the Medicaid program
but the issues stand along separately whether you're'
talking about long term services and supports or a cue care
or care-- dental care for children.
I think one of the things that new members
of the legislature have to deal with very early
on in their tenure is the complexity of the issues
and the difficulty in putting in place effective solutions
to address those challenges because of the complex nature,
the need to balance out the effects of any changes
and the cost involved.
Clearly, you know, dollars influence a lot of the decisions
that are made and I think they learn very quickly
that it's not quite as easy
as they thought it was six months ago
when they were campaigning for office.
And so they get the deal first hand with some
of those real difficult issues, is I think also in incumbent
about them to better explain
to their constituents the challenges that are there.
And so when you start talking
about educating the public more broadly, there are number
of advocacy groups and they are all very familiar with it
but I think it takes the elected representatives
to better inform their constituents
on the challenges that exist.
>> You know, that kind of ties to something you mentioned
in your previous answer and I want--
that I want to ask you about.
Do you think that the president being re-elected
in a sense the settling of the issue of the ACA will--
is sufficient to clear the climate in Texas for the kind
of discussion you implied before about, you know,
a kind of looking at it surely in terms of the numbers
of the favorable federal match if you accept that, et cetera.
I mean, how big a factor is it and you mentioned
that kind of in passing--
>> I think it's an important factor just in the sense
that it removes an element of doubt
around it doesn't really make more clear the choices
that are-- I mean, I think those choices have already been
self evident.
It doesn't change in that respect the philosophical views
that different officials might have on it.
What it does do though is take
out a consideration the possibility or potential
that the law would not move forward.
So, you have that clearly established.
I would expect that the law is going to move forward.
It's going to move forward in different pace,
in different levels, in different states.
And so, I think it's going to be back to the governor
and the legislature to determine what is the most appropriate
approach for Texas.
But the reelection
of the president doesn't help resolve those
philosophical differences.
It does remove the consideration of whether Congress
or the president would change direction.
>> So Tom, what do you think, is it inevitable that we're
in the hydro illogical cycle at the state level?
You know, we've seen a couple of attempts and a couple
of different ways [inaudible] to a couple of sessions ago,
you know, bills like the tap fee last time.
Is there-- can you see that there's a way out of that cycle?
>> I think there is and I'm a cynical optimist,
but I hope it doesn't take an extended drought
which we will have another one in Texas.
We relied upon the 1950's drought at record
to be our benchmark for water planning
and that was a 10-year drought from 1947 to 1957,
and it devastated the state economy.
But we've gone back and set the tree rings and realize
that there have been 30 year droughts in Texas
and the southwest and it's simply, it's inevitable
and at some point, we'll have another one such as that.
But barring that, I'm--
I have some optimism because we have folks like Chairman Ritter
who have-- who has just repeatedly talked
about this issue and very honest in straightforward terms
and more and more members
of the legislature I think are listening to this
and realizing especially because of last year's drought
that this is real, we have to do something.
It's not an easy issue but there's--
some really particular challenges
when it comes to water.
Most water issues are very local.
Texas in a way is a victim of this geography.
East Texas has a lot-- we have a lot of water in the state,
it's just not where most of the people live.
And the old joke on water folks is, you know,
water doesn't really flow down hill, it flows towards money.
And what that means is ultimately,
water gets to where the population centers are
because people will demand it.
And with the tremendous increase in population in Texas,
we're going to need to point
where formally adequate resources for rivers
and ground water and the existing lakes had been fine
but they're strained now.
And if you put a drought on top of that,
you have a real problem.
But if your legislator in east Texas where it's really wet,
why do you vote for a water project or a funding source
at statewide when it's going to benefit those people
in the west where it's dry.
And of course, almost everyone thinks
that it serves other people who don't conserve enough water,
I do a great job of conservation.
And so, you have that built-in problem and yet,
I've heard very, very honest conversations
from Chairman Ritter and others talking about this issue,
admitting that it is not going to happen quickly but we have
to get the sort of critical mass of legislators
to understand the issue.
It is a long term matter as Deirdre said.
It's very analogous to her other infrastructures issues
and it is the limiting factor I think for Texas' growth.
I think that maybe the way to sell it,
absent a really intense drought that goes on for a long time
which is if we want economic development to continue
in Texas, we have to have a reliable water supply
for the whole state.
Large employers when they come in, a new industry ask--
that's one of the first questions they ask.
They want a good educated work force and things like that,
but you to have an adequate water supply.
And we're going to have to have a good answer or else folks
up are on the-- in the rust belt along the great lakes,
you're going to say, "Come on back, we've' got lots of water."
So, I think we can get there.
The big question is going to be what is the funding source
and how do we educate the voters
as to why this is really important.
And I'm going to add another note here
which is I think we need to educate people about the fact
that water is not free.
We have assumed that it is
but the reality is we don't value water very much
because it is essentially free.
And the most modest tap fee
that most people would never recognize,
in fact I think most people
in this room don't even know what their water bill was
for last month, compared to their cell phone bill,
or your cable TV bill.
So we become accustomed to thinking that water is something
that I just get gratis.
We've got to change that and I think we can educate people
about how little it would cause to raise sufficient funds
to revive adequate water supplies for the future
but we haven't done that yet.
>> [Inaudible] during your tenure at TxDOT that you--
there was, you know, both in terms of--
it seemed to me about the internal dynamics
and the Sunset Review.
There was a renewed emphasis on--
or a lot of attention to TxDOT that communicated
with the public, what the public image
of transportation was, how do you view this?
>> Well, there's no question that TxDOT is little bit ahead
of the power curve in this issues
because the transportation issues were put
on the radar screen and put into the public domain
in such a very public way in the, you know, 2001,
2003 sessions that yet-- you know, it was the backlash
from the public was loud and vociferous and they had--
and it creeped into a political campaigns in a major way
and have forced the agency and enforce policy makers
to recognize that and to do things differently
and I think the story of the Trans-Texas Corridor,
it's demise and it's potential future replacement
with the parallel and at separate parallel,
I've got a quarter to I35 but one that it is driven
and determined at the local level rather
than the state level is probably the biggest outcome from the--
what we've saw in at Tex.
the biggest mistake where we made was--
which was telling people there's a problem
and here's the solution.
And I still believe the agency was right.
There is a problem and that was a great solution.
We're told, we didn't educate.
And so now, the agency has now gone back and it's been a--
it's-- got the four year long process of working
through local segment committees to get the local folks,
you know, made up the Farm Bureau, county judges, mayors,
you name it to come together work through consensus
to recognize okay, yes, we need additional capacity,
where is it going to go and how do we communicate that
and get support in our local community.
So, I think TxDOT learned a very important lesson.
The good news is I don't-- at the end of the day,
TxDOT became a better agency for it and we were still able
to continue and deliver these projects.
And the results have been remarkable,
I mean look at the opening of the State Highway 130,
segments five and six a couple of weeks ago.
That was the very first comprehensive development
agreement project in the state.
It was developed by Cintra, a foreign company.
But the opening was to great fanfare
and the only negative stories so far have been the number
of feral hogs on the road, I mean, that's a great--
that's a great road, it's the most high tech piece
of payment in the world.
And for that, the state was given 125 million dollars
for a road that would not exist today, had it not been
for this really innovative tool but it took a lot
of growing pains to get us to that point.
Thankfully, the legislatures took with agency.
We had to take a few lumps but we then now reason those tools
to apply it in the Metroplex and two big projects
that are going on, well I should-- three CDA projects,
but only two of them got our concession up in the Metroplex.
So, I think on terms of sort of the innovative financing side
of transportation, TxDOT has learned a lesson before they're
ahead at the power curve on how to deal with those issues.
In terms of new sources of funding for transportation,
whether it's an increase in the gas tax or index in the gas tax
or new registration fees or scraping in the gas tax,
all together in going to a vehicle's mile travel system
for a stay up that what transportation needs
and what TxDOT needs is a stable, reliable source
of funding for transportation,
the gas tax is none of those things.
We have not loss gas tax revenues
because our population is a hedge against the loss
of the-- in the gas tax.
So, you know, that to me is the big unknown
with this legislature.
Are they going to embrace increased fees through a gas tax
or increase registration fees, I don't know.
They haven't historically been and that's why I--
and during my tenure at TxDOT,
I've embraced very strongly these different sources
of financing for transportation.
That wasn't always very popular but it has allowed us
to continue to move forward in Texas.
And, you know, and I don't know, I like to think that maybe
that it's a model that can be used for water,
I don't know, it may, perhaps.
But, so I think there's two ways, there's two sources
of funding that you need to look at for transportation
and how the public reacts to new sources of fees and revenues,
I don't know where they are right now, none.
>> I want to come back to that with all of you.
What do you-- what do you think Robert in terms of, you know,
this question in regard to education?
>> Well I think most folks look
to their local school districts for, you know, how they feel
about what's going on in education.
And that you got a complicated message now
because of six different school finance lawsuits
that are going on.
So, and you're speaking to a large and growing number
of households that don't have school age children.
And so I could make a statement that, gosh, you know,
the student success initiative really wouldn't fund it
at a certain level.
And what I was talking about in the scheme things was a rounding
error in the state budget.
That was just, you know, a reallocation of resources
to what I thought was a critical deed.
But the backlash that you saw was oh,
here comes TEA just asking for billions of more dollars
but in the scheme things, it was far, far less
but it was something I thought we needed to focus on.
So, anytime you talk about that, you see the division.
There are some bright spots.
You're starting to see public interest in education.
Look what happened on the election
at San Antonio, Pre-K for SA.
I mean, you know, I was one of the people who was going,
you know, I don't know if black folks are going to vote
for 1/8 cent tax increase for Pre-K
but sure enough, it passed.
So you see interest out there in continuing
to support public ed that, you know,
tax rollback collections passing, bond issues passing.
So, you see that support out there but it's--
you're speaking to a far more complex audience
than you traditionally have in the past
without school age kids.
>> Well, let me-- kind of wanted to come back down
but since you raised that,
how do you read the physical environment right now?
I mean I think in the mood in terms of revenue,
it's come up one way or the other in everybody's answer.
Clearly, the last couple of cycles with budget packs, with,
you know, fiscal, you know, a mood of fiscal crisis
in the nation, you know, less pronounce
but certainly present in the state.
How do you read that?
Is it changing and is it kind of inevitable
that we reach a tipping point in your area.
I mean education is, I think, what we're talking
about at front and center is people talk again and again
about the reduction and poor people spending less time,
what the impact is, how much people are going to notice that.
Is this now the new normal or do we think it's swaying?
>> Oh, I think, you know, anytime you talk about Texas,
you have to look at their context with the rest
of the country and wearing a far lot better shape than a lot
of other states
that significantly cut education even more than Texas debts.
So, and you hope that when the pendulum swings back,
that will be able to reallocate those resources and,
like I said, fund enrollment growth
and perhaps even target some interventions for students
who fail the test and provide what the law requires.
Because it wouldn't just me saying, hey,
I think this is a good idea.
It was me saying, this is what I think the law requires.
And, you know, and then we'll see how six different school
finance lawsuits pan out.
But remember last time, the courts heard three issues,
equity, adequacy,
and an unconstitutional statewide property tax.
By the time it got to the Supreme Court, the only problem
that was presented
to the legislature was the unconstitutional statewide
property tax.
They fixed it.
Some would argue they fixed it too well.
And without given meaningful discretion locally
to raise revenue but the question is
who does meaningful discretion lie in?
Is it the voters or the school board?
So, you got all these things working
but I think the climate overall is improving and, you know,
hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of that.
>> Let me ask you by the climate,
do you mean the economic climate or the political climate?
>> I think the economic climate is improving, you know,
look at sales tax receipts.
I mean, just yesterday, we said 5.4 percent increase
in sales tax receipts.
So certainly that is an indication of an improving
and thriving, in some cases, economy.
And I think on the political side, you got what,
49 new members of the House.
You've got, I think, seven or eight new members
of the state board of education.
I think that's the big question mark is no one really knows.
>> Yeah. I think some would argue that part of that,
that new member support the orientation
of that new membership suggest
that they're not really necessarily seeing it is a
pendulum swing.
But you seem to think that it will come back politically too.
Am I reading too much into that?
>> What I was talking about last year was the pendulum swinging
on standardized test, you know.
When the House votes 138 to 2 to ban testing for two years,
I thought I was just simply stating the obvious, you know.
There's a backlash coming, let's prepare for it
because I didn't want to lose a system
that I thought helped kids, you know.
But I thought that we were overemphasizing and even
if we weren't overemphasizing at the state level,
the interpretation out in the school district 'cause that's
all we cared about so that's all they did.
It was benchmark testing and that's
when I used the dreaded P word and I talked about, you know,
the system becoming aversion.
The whole focus was supposed to be
on the curriculum, not just the test.
Anybody who was in those meetings back in the mid '90s
when we're developing the accountability system,
we were 100 percent convinced that we were going to focus
on the curriculum and not just the test.
And so, that's what I was talking about.
>> The education report at the tribunal strangled me
if I do a follow up on that.
So what do you think went wrong there?
>> You know, I think it was a combination of we--
as I said, double down on a test every couple of years.
And then the interpretation out there was
that that's all we cared about,
that's all the ratings we're going to be based from.
And what I was talking about was an accountability system
that looked it every other day and what does a good career
and tech program look like
and what does a good finance arts program, and I was hoping
that we could kind of take the blinders that focus only
on the test and kind of give some breadth and, you know,
depth to understanding what's really going on our schools.
But, you know, we just-- we have to appoint
that I think the agency did a very good job of trying
to get information out there about starting in the course
but it was never enough.
The only thing that would have worked is if we've been able
to release a test, you know.
And that's kind of what we were getting as, you know,
we had reams of information and then I think it was just short
of us being able to release a practice test
that drove everybody crazy.
>> Is there a legislative remedy to that?
>> Well, you know, there is a law in chapter 39
that says districts cannot benchmark test more
than 10 percent of the instructional days.
But I think in many cases,
that's probably not being enforced,
or not-- maybe it's not known.
So, you know, there were precautions put in place
in statute to try to prevent that.
I think just, like I said,
the system desegregation of data is essential.
We need to keep that, keep focusing on our subgroups.
But take a look at, you know, some of the high stakes,
you know the 15 percent thing.
You know, last year we have what, over 120 members
of the House wrote me a letter saying, please get rid
of this this year, it's driving our parents crazy.
So I think those things are just illogical conversation
that we can have moving in about accountability
and assessments as we move forward.
>> You implied that-- you didn't even implied, you said that,
you know, you were happy with the fact
that you would introduce, you know, sort of new--
you would impart of introducing new funding mechanisms at TxDOT.
Same question to you, is that going to have
to be the permanent solution?
Do you think the fiscal climate is such that, you know,
there's never going to be--
at a climate where you can create new revenue mechanisms
directly from government?
>> You got to keep in mind and we weren't--
transportation is such an odd duck funding issue because,
you know, I don't care about GR, how much GR we have
or don't have because we're not relying on GR.
GR is a very small part of our budget, although significant
in some of our bonding programs.
As a result and I've have gigged other former commissioners
in the past about this
where other areas might have been getting cut.
Transportation in last session actually increased funding.
So, you know, we were pretty happy about that.
I think the bigger issue is the overall policy
about how you fund transportation.
It's not so much how much money is available in general revenue
but if we know the gas tax is broken,
what are we going to replace it with?
So to me, it's less-- it may--
obviously, that is a fiscal conversation but it's more
of a policy conversation of are we ready to scrap the gas tax
and go to something that's more directly measures use of roads
like a vehicle miles traveled, a system would
which frankly scares a lot of people.
Do we go-- do we increase registration fees,
driver's license fees, index the gas tax, things like that.
And those are larger policy discussions
that really haven't been had at the state level.
And they've been largely masked by the fact that we have focused
on this innovative financing techniques for transportation.
And a lot of the members,
the legislature have been critical with that.
They think that, you know, increase reliance on tolling
and bonding is just--
has essentially put us back in having the conversation
about the permanent long term dependable source
of funding for transportation.
It has to happen like it's done to gas tax.
>> But as close as you are at the political process,
it seems to me you are good person to ask though that,
you know, as you sort of imply there,
as soon as you start talking about new funding mechanisms,
it seems like there has become a much more stringent task
for talking about new sources of revenues.
So I guess, my question is do you think that will change?
I mean, you sound like you hope it will but I'm wondering
if you think it will or not?
>> Right. What I would love to see to happen
for transportation is if a solution can be found
that replaces the gas taxes-- the gas tax today on a dollar
for dollar basis, but with something that grows
with the population and grows over time, the gas tax doesn't.
The gas tax is just stagnant even though our population
is growing.
The only reason why it is stagnant is 'cause our
population is growing.
So, I'm hopeful maybe, that can be a policy solution
for a legislature that has very real political concerns
about raising taxes to say, you know,
we didn't raise your transportation taxes
but it was replaced with something that's going to grow
over time and be something that transportation planners can rely
on to meet the needs of a growing state.
>> Tom, it seems like that argument is another version
of the argument you talked about with water,
with a marginal tap fee.
I wonder if you see, you know, any, you know,
that the restrictiveness of that environment easy enough at all?
>> I think it might.
I'm not terribly optimistic about that.
I don't see taxes being raised for water.
I just don't.
I think that the likelihood of a very modest tap fee,
if there was enough education statewide as well
as within a capital, I think that might happen.
I've heard talk about tapping a rainy day fund for so
that the kernel of some funding, they could be distributed
by the weather development board for really needy projects
on a high priority basis.
Not terribly optimistic about that, but I'm hearing more
and more discussions of it.
The good news about that is at least there are people talking
about possible sources of revenue because a couple
of sessions ago, you really didn't hear a lot
that the bottled water fee was raised some years back
and has come up repeatedly but, you know,
the association doesn't want to be targeted
and I'm not really optimistic about that one either.
I think we're going to see a push
on public-private partnerships as a way to similar
to transportation to leverage really limited dollars at least
on the front end so that local governments perhaps can get a
lot of projects funded for their region on a priority basis.
But again, if you want to kick-start some of that,
if you want a help from the statewide level,
it's going to take some sort of funding.
And I think, if not this session, then perhaps the next
that will be some sort of non-tax revenue source
that has a decent chance of passing.
To me, the tap fee, because it's so widespread and it could be
such a small amount on your bill seems like a good approach.
Chairman Ritter talked about it a lot
in his different conversations, at water conferences
and so forth but the proof will in a putting, we'll see.
>> The rainy day fund is a really unfortunate,
I mean for you, is it--
>> I know, I know.
[Laughter] We don't have a drought fund, so--
>> Oh, what you think in terms of HHS?
Obviously, Medicaid, Medicare, huge but, you know,
the discussion of this is very complicated.
This morning, I've ended the conversation with Kirk Watson,
with Senators Watson and Senator Patrick and Blake,
you know, Senator Patrick.
Senator Patrick was pretty definite I think in saying that,
you know, HHS and in funding on Medicaid and Medicare
and Social Services was going to basically break the state
if we didn't do something, you know, drastically different
and then in fact he drew a direct parallel saying
that it was coming at the expensive education.
Is that an inevitable kind of formulation?
>> Well, I think that certainly is the major concern
that many members of the legislature have and that is
that the required of mandatory funding for Health
and Human Services crowds out the funding opportunities
for other areas of government particularly public education.
And one of the most difficult things that people would say
to me when I served as commissioner was
that Medicaid is unsustainable.
And, I mean, I could not really disagree with them
but I didn't really have anything to offer them
with that-- in that regard, you know.
And so I think the focus then well continue to be on.
When you talk about alternative revenue sources in Health
and Human Services, typically that means, well, is there a way
to get some additional federal funds, which and, you know,
federal funds are not free but, you know,
they come to our government and we should seek them
and apply them appropriately and so, there's always efforts
to maximize federal funding.
And so, that's one option that's available.
And the other side, our word is always how can you deliver the
same level of services at a lower cost.
And so, a lot of focus on cost containment efforts.
You know, is there a less costly equally effective way
to provide medical services to those who need.
And so, you try to balance those two things out.
But it continues to be a huge fiscal challenge for the state,
you know, Health and Human Services represents
about I guess the third of all state spending
but when you start looking
at the discretionary general revenue,
that the legislature has available to allocate it,
it continues to require a huge chunk of that
and limits their ability to respond to other policy needs.
>> I want to ask you about something
that I suspect you're thankful to not be in the middle of,
but it's in your domain in this conversation
and that's the ongoing transition
or possible transition in the women's healthcare program.
>> Oh, yeah.
>> How do you read that conflict and what do you--
how do you make sense of what's going on with there?
Is that-- is this a discussion that's driven primarily
by politics around Planned Parenthood?
Is there a legitimate kind
of policy domain question in where--
>> Well, you could talk about it or think about it in terms
of politics but politics means, you know,
they are reflecting their beliefs, their philosophy,
the principles upon which they were elected to the legislature
on either side of the issue.
And so, I think the political process then balances
out those competing views and priorities.
I mean, I think, right now is so confusing to everybody
because of the back and forth in court,
whether it's federal court or state court.
And so, I've lost track of where it is.
I think it's back in state court now
and there's a temporary restraining order
so everything is okay and federal funds are still flowing.
At some point, it will come to a resolution
and I think the political process is the mechanism we have
to resolve those kinds of conflicts.
And so, again, I think what the Health
and Human Services Commission has done is put
in place the decisions of the legislature
from the last session.
The governor has been very clear
about what his beliefs and position is.
The legislature is concurred.
And so, back again in next session
and see if that's reaffirmed.
>> Well, I might even have thought you were still
in office.
[Laughter] Let me ask you another--
then a followup question.
All right.
Do you think based on your experience and allowing
for the fact Jim been in office for a little bit,
do you think the state has the capacity to deliver--
to continue delivering the kind of services
that have been delivered
if Planned Parenthood is cut out the equation?
>> I think there are enough resources available are enough
for the providers.
I mean, the Planned Parenthood has been a large willing
provider and the program is made--
been accessible to a lot of women
and they're familiar with that.
That doesn't mean that there aren't other providers.
When I think of seeing something from the commission
that indicates they've identified 3,000
additional providers.
Now, the issue, I don't know really is based
around the program structure.
I think it's really more around the philosophical disagreement
and whether or not the state should exclude that provider
as a matter of choice, I mean.
And, you know, I know the arguments go to all
of these other operational points
and the financing points and, yeah, it does.
It is nice to give 90 percent federal match.
But, you know, when you're talking about 40 million dollars
in a 25 billion dollar Medicaid budget,
I don't know that's the basis
that the decision would be made upon.
And so, it really is.
It really is more of ideological,
philosophical disagreement
and I think that's what the elected officials are
in office to determine.
>> Well, this goes back
to the first question I asked a little bit just once more
on that beat.
Now that the national quest--
the national election has taken place,
the Obama Administration is not going anywhere.
Attorney General Abbott kind of famously tweeted the morning
of the election something to the effect of, you know,
when Romney wins today, we'll be able to drop all these lawsuits
and not have to pay for them anymore.
Well, that's obviously not going to happen.
I mean, aside from the financial incentive, do you think
that having the administration in place
for four years may help alleviate this?
I mean, you've worked from both the federal and the state level.
>> No, I mean, when it comes to the women's health program
in particular, I don't think the federal government is open
to changing their interpretation and their position,
and so I think the lines are drawn on that.
And I was just thinking back.
I was commissioner when the program was first implemented.
And the prohibition was in law at that time and it did revolve
around the meaning of affiliate.
The definition of affiliate that we applied focus more on whether
or not there was a business or financial relationship
that existed between a business entity that performed abortion
and a business entity that did not perform abortion.
And I think, you know, following the implementation
on that basis, the legislature came back around
and I was no longer a commissioner
but made a determination that's not really what we meant
by that restriction.
We meant for it to be more broadly applied.
And so, they are the ones that are in placed
to make those kind of decisions.
And so, I think that's the position
that will be maintained.
I don't see that the centers for Medicaid,
Medicare services are too open
to changing their interpretation about it either.
So it may won't back up in federal court again.
Okay, I want you all to be thinking about questions.
I want to ask you guys one quick lightning round based
on this discussion while people are charting questions out.
In the domains, we've talked about as we go in,
as we go into the legislature, are you optimistic
or pessimistic about progress being made in the areas
where you guys have so previously served.
I've been gleaning on you so we'll start
with Robert on the other end.
>> Cautiously optimistic.
>> Optimistic.
>> Cautiously optimistic.
>> I'm neutral.
I mean, I think when it comes to Health and Human Services,
you know, progress, I mean,
maybe the outcome would be to hold their own.
>> Well, nobody is negative.
>> Yeah, right.
>> Okay, so [inaudible] going to have a microphone
and we're going to open it to the floor for questions.
[Inaudible] Again, just to remind you,
please wait for the microphone, it'd be helpful.
Thank you.
>> Hi, thanks for coming.
This one's for you Mr. Hawkins.
The expansion of Medicaid, Medicare, I'm not too familiar
with it but if I understand it correctly, if the state decides
to not do it themselves,
the federal government is going to do it anyway?
Is that correct and if so would the state want to have control
over that and so do you think
that they'll go ahead and accept those?
>> That's not the case when you deal--
when you look at the Medicaid expansion.
That's a state determination, a state authorization.
And so it's up to the state to determine whether
or not to expand Medicaid.
On the other side of it is the Health Insurance Exchange
that will take place regardless of whether
or not the state runs it.
And so, that's already being developed now.
Our state has opted not to establish
and operate the Health Insurance Exchange established
under federal law and so the federal government is moving
forward with that.
When it comes to the Medicaid expansion,
now the Supreme Court ruling made clear
that the state has a discretion as to whether or not
to expand its Medicaid program.
>> Another question?
Gentleman over here.
[ Pause ]
>> I'm glad you're all optimistic.
It's-- well, you have every reason to be.
It would appear that when the controller releases the
estimate, there'll be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10
to 12 billion dollars and would seem to be
that the constraint now will be the spending limit.
So, if you were still commissioner of education
and Albert, if you were still responsible for Medicaid,
would you guys just be willing to flip a coin
and split the 7 billion dollars between you?
>> Probably not.
[Laughter] I'd go for broke.
I don't know, Robert might, you know,
I think that the fiscal demands are one
of the real reasons I've been neutral about the outlook
for this session in Health and Human Services and certainly,
this session will be a lot more promising and positive
than the last session when we were scaling back.
But just to stay even with Medicaid,
it's going to take 10 billion.
So, there was 4.7 billion dollars shortfall for 2013.
We have to match that amount for the 14, 15 by any amount
and the federal match rate is changed, that's going
to cost state funds 600 million more and so I think just
to start off even with Medicaid, you need 10 billion.
[Multiple Speakers] [Inaudible Remark]
>> Yes. [Inaudible Remark] Yes and so then you have
to start looking ahead at 14, 15, yes.
[Inaudible Remark] I take that--
>> You could use with the difference and flip a coin
or would you say [inaudible]
>> Given that, I'd split the difference.
>> Yeah, I don't know that I would flip a coin, you know.
I'd look at, you know, what I did in LAR, you know.
When I thought what the priorities the state need
to be focused on and right now that's implementing
in the course exams
in the subjects I mentioned earlier in enrollment growth.
You know, that's, you know,
a couple of billion dollars each biennium, you know,
just for enrolment growth plus looking at the cuts
that were made last time and seeing if you want
to restore some of those and then getting into, as I said,
implementation of end of course exams to start.
So, I don't know that I could get 10 billion dollars
but I'd buy them for it.
>> Let me follow up on that and in a slightly more focused way,
do you think that all things being equal, it would be best
to restore the cuts, in other words save, you know,
even if you stipulate the question whether you want to
or not, do you think that the--
those cuts hurt the system badly enough that you think
that they need to be restored if they could be?
>> You can never paint with that broad of a brush in a state
as large and diverse as Texas.
In some cases, school districts really got hurt.
In some cases, they were already hurt,
the chaos of local decisions that they have made for 10
or 15 years, poor decisions about hiring
and not firing compounded themselves over time.
In some cases, you had districts
with fund balances that were fine.
So, it's impossible to paint with that broad a brush.
Money is relevant but not this positive.
But when you get to a point, now I would have absolutely said
that with the 10 billion dollars they propose cutting,
that would have done some serious long term damage.
And I think that working with the legislature to get back
that 6 billion dollars prevented us from really, you know,
seeing mass chaos across the system.
I think the system can function.
It's looking ahead, you know, for enrollment growth
in the future demands have start and of course we're going
to have to have some serious conversations
about additional revenue.
>> Another question from--
okay, let's go over here and then over there.
>> Thanks Daniel.
>> Oh yeah.
>> So this morning, Senator Patrick
and Senator Watson had a,
I would say a very spirited conversation
about the aspect of education funding.
And one thing that Senator Watson was bringing
out was the fact, you know, we cut that,
we need to put money back to it.
Senator Patrick came back and said, well,
you just don't throw money at the problem, you know,
you need to go in and fix the solution.
Of course, he is going back to his little piece of vouchers
or his-- he called it school choice.
So, let's just say we take money off the table, what can we do
to go in and fix the schools?
I mean, what can we do to go in
and as Senator Patrick said addressed the issue?
>> I'm a believer that real education reform is something
very similar to what Deirdre said.
It's something that you plot out and takes time.
And I believe that the college incurs readiness standards
that we've put in place.
If we properly align our instructional materials,
assessments, professional development, and resources
to them will be better for kids.
I think end of course exams will be better for kids.
It's just how we implement them, what stakes we attach to them.
I believe if we stay the course on a lot of these things,
it will be better for kids.
But we're going to have to have a conversation
about resources in the future.
Now, you know, I don't know that there's ever a magic bullet.
You know, if you go back to the late 1800s,
the headlines were colleges and universities are upset,
the kids aren't graduating ready for college.
It's in the late 1800s.
We're still having that debate today.
So, it's one of those things that everything is cyclical
in education and the same thing with vouchers, you know.
You can have-- let's have a conversation
about school choice.
I don't think you have an agency that's prepared to implement it
and that's going to be the devil, it's going to be details
and implementation of that.
I said that the Tribune Fest you need to get the agency guns
and badges because I worry that, you know, you have some fly
by nighters open up, send the state a bill and then be off
with some non-extradition country before we know
what happens.
So, you need to be very careful about how to implement it.
Remember too, the Supreme Court has ruled
that the agency cannot regulate private schools particularly
home schools.
So, you got that little constitutional thing coming
out here again so you got to be thoughtful
about how you think through that.
>> I want to follow up in a little bit.
What do you anticipate-- what do you anticipate Senator Patrick
doing or proposing?
>> You know, I heard this morning,
he has a plan but no one seen it.
So I really couldn't, I don't want to put words
in this mouth, you know.
Like I said the school choice voucher debate has been
on the table for how many decades now, I mean,
we've been talking about-- [Inaudible Remark] Huh?
>> Since 1999.
>> Since '99 and, you know, they tried a number
of avenues, a number of options.
You know, I personally think high quality charter schools are
something that that should be encouraged.
I think the bad charter schools ought to be closed more quickly,
but-- so I think that can be instructive to us and is
to how a school choice system could morph into something
that we didn't intend.
>> There's another question but I couldn't see where it was.
[ Pause ]
Okay, well, please, thank our guests.
[ Applause ]
[ Silence ]